historic poster for a show hangs on the walls of the
famed music venue the Fillmore in San Francisco.
FRANCISCO — Jerry Garcia is soaring.
else would you expect at the Fillmore, San Francisco’s
most illustrious rock-concert venue?
not talking about a hologram, a la Michael Jackson at the
Billboard Music Awards.
the stairs to the Fillmore’s legendary poster rooms and,
on the landing, there’s a photo of Garcia, with one of
those Captain Trips smiles in mid-guitar solo, enshrined
in a fancy gold-embossed triptych frame. That classic
image gets you in the mood for the two upstairs poster
rooms, which feature framed posters for just about every
concert ever held in this auditorium since 1965.
Every concert, a poster. Not photos but artistic drawings
and designs. In every color imaginable. Psychedelic doesn’t
begin to describe it. You could get high just off the
fumes caked on these posters.
Hendrix, the Dead, Tom Petty’s 20-show marathon, Willie
Nelson, Dave Chappelle.
carefully and you’ll even find Minneapolis’ own
Semisonic on one of the posters that is strangely
horizontal on a wall of vertical images. Go figure. It’s
was a huge thrill" to play there, said Semisonic
bassist John Munson, who had been fully aware of the venue
since a late 1960s family trip to the West Coast on which
his older brother got to see Janis Joplin at the Fillmore.
"It’s a very classy outfit. You take one of those
posters home. I have a copy of the poster in a
the more than 1,400 posters, some commemorate historic
rock moments. Like one with the Buffalo Springfield,
featuring Neil Young and Stephen Stills, on the same bill
as Hour Glass, featuring then-unknowns Duane and Gregg
Allman. Or Led Zeppelin opening for Country Joe and the
poster art looks like the music sounded," said
veteran San Francisco critic Joel Selvin, who has been
covering the music scene since 1969.
the Fillmore ran out of wall space in 2007. But the staff
still creates a poster for every gig.
Fillmore — which is open only for concerts, not guided
tours — is a pretty trippy place. The beige brick
exterior is nondescript, and the lighted marquee is
actually over the business next door, a loan and
interior of the music room feels a bit like it’s
decorated in Gold Rush bordello, with dark-red velvet
curtains and dusty chandeliers from another decade.
you land one of the seating boxes in the balcony, you get
a bird’s-eye view of the flashy light show, the happy
crowd and the musicians onstage. This place feels like a
fact, the building at the corner of Fillmore Street and
Geary Boulevard opened in 1912 as Majestic Hall and
Majestic Academy of Dancing, home to masquerade balls and
other social events. The name of the venue changed over
the years but dancing and entertainment were the bill of
fare. In the 1940s, the place was a roller rink. In 1952,
a local promoter started booking R&B artists,
including Ike Turner and James Brown, and renamed it the
Dec. 10, 1965, as San Francisco emerged as a hot spot for
hippies and the counterculture, promoter Bill Graham
presented a benefit for the San Francisco Mime Troupe
featuring the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead.
Fillmore not only helped launch such Bay Area bands as
Santana and Big Brother and the Holding Company (featuring
Joplin), but it became the place to play for such touring
stars as the Who, Muddy Waters and Jimi Hendrix (who
infamously opened for the Monkees at the Fillmore in ‘67)
as well as comedians like Lenny Bruce and poets like Allen
concerts featured far-out light shows, uninhibited dancing
and whatever turned young people on at the height of
1968, Graham relocated the Fillmore to a better
neighborhood, dubbing it the Fillmore West (he also
operated a Fillmore East in New York City). He closed the
West Coast place in ‘71.
the 1980s, the original Fillmore became the Elite Club, a
punk-rock club, before the 1989 earthquake forced its
closing. Five years later, it reopened as the Fillmore
once again with the Smashing Pumpkins.
current schedule remains remarkably eclectic. In June,
performers include R&B star Kelis, reggaeton hero
Yandel, indie-rock darlings TuneYards, jazz-pop pianist
Jamie Cullum, British electronica act Metronomy and retro
soul man Lee Fields.
the years, some classic live albums were recorded at the
Fillmore, including those by Aretha Franklin, Miles Davis,
King Curtis, Traffic, Cream and, more recently, Lucinda
a capacity of 1,100, the Fillmore, now run by the world’s
biggest promoter, Live Nation, is still the prestigious
place to play in San Francisco.
our kind of music, it’s the hallowed hall where it all
got started," said Jeff Mattson, guitarist / singer
for Dark Star Orchestra, a Grateful Dead tribute band that
has performed at the Fillmore several times. "There’s
a cultural touchstone in that word ‘Fillmore,’
associated with the music I grew up listening to. Every
third album I bought was ‘Live at the Fillmore.’ There’s
just a great vibe in that room. You sort of feel the
ghosts of all the performances that played there. … I
strongly feel the history of the place."
sense of history is captured near the dance floor in
large, framed photos of Miles, Janis and the early Dead
with a clean-shaven Jerry Garcia. There’s also room for
something completely new at the Fillmore — little-known
solo acts and duos playing acoustic music on a tiny stage
in one of the poster rooms during intermission in the main
the end of the night, two traditions carry on in the
grungy foyer: free posters and apples as you exit. Graham
himself used to hand out apples back in the day. Maybe
after all that music (or pot), music lovers are hungry. Or
maybe they’ll just want to pass the apple to one of the
many homeless young people who hang out outside the